I spent a couple of hours with a group of high school students last week (during one of my career day talks) and one of the things that often comes up in those youth speeches are mistakes that we adults make with teens. So, I thought that I would share a few with you – the three blunders, according to the teens themselves, that we most often make when dealing with them. Parenting teenagers can be tough. Everybody makes mistakes but the difference between success and failure is how we handle those mistakes!
3 Mistakes To Avoid When Parenting Teenagers
1 – TRYING TO BE PERFECT.
I have talked about this one before. Teenagers (kids in general) don’t relate to perfect people, they relate to humans. And here’s the thing about us humans, we’re imperfect. We make mistakes. If you want your teen to open up to you, you go first. You start the ball rolling. Get off your high horse, step down from your soapbox, and put away your know-it-all lecture notes. Embrace the fact that you’re imperfect, that you have a past full of mistakes and lessons learned the hard way.
Sometimes the things in life that hurt you the most, are the very things you can use to help others. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to build a bridge. Repeating the standards they’ve failed to meet isn’t encouraging to teens. And hearing you talk like you’re perfect when they’re struggling isn’t helpful either. In fact, it is just plain annoying.
Learn from your own failings to help them pick up and move on. Consider a time when you were struggling. Who did you turn to? Your friend who acts perfect and makes you feel inferior? Or your friend who acts human and who gets what you’re going through and opens up a bit about their own struggles? Be the perfectly imperfect adult – your teen will relate to you much, much better!
2 – SHOW (OR) TELL
The problem here is the OR. It’s show AND tell people. Remember grade school? It’s a dangerous mistake to only communicate to teens in one way. Especially when it comes to important stuff like “I love you” or “I’m there for you.” If you’re just showing or just telling, teens may never receive your message. You may think you’re communicating how much you love them all day long, but they’re not getting it – it doesn’t make sense. The fact is, the teen you’re trying to reach may not receive or process information the way you are trying to communicate it. Some parents/teachers/mentors/coaches just try to show teens they love them, but don’t tell them. Other people just tell teens they love them, but never show them. You must do both. Nothing encourages your teen more than knowing (and hearing) you love them and are there for them.
3 – BEING FRIENDS
Don’t get me wrong, this is a tough one for me since my young son and I are very close friends but your children have friends – probably more than you do! What they need is a parent. They need a role model. An authority figure. Can you be both? Sometimes, ideally, yes. You can and should balance your authority with love and friendship. Relating is great. Being fun to be around is great. But you are not supposed to be a teen’s buddy or BFF.
It may feel nice, it may be easier, but in the long run, your relationship with them is much stronger if you are the authority figure they need – not what feels the most warm and fuzzy for you. If you really care about them, you’ll give teens what they need and not just what they want – or what makes you want. As an authority figure, a parent, teacher, or role model, you’re supposed to be the one who stands by the teenagers you care about and holds them accountable no matter what. It’s your responsibility to establish and enforce the rules and consequences, draw the boundaries. It’s up to you to maintain a stable, loving environment where teens feel secure. There is no way to count how many ways this impacts a teen.
I see many parents and authority figures scared of being labeled as the “bad guy.” But here’s a secret – teens will tell you all day long they don’t want boundaries but, down deep, boundaries make teens feel safe. Remember this, especially you parents, drawing and keeping boundaries, teaching teens the difference between right and wrong, what’s acceptable and unacceptable – this is your responsibility, no one else’s. On the other hand, if you don’t do it, if you choose to just be friends instead of giving some tough (and needed discipline), they’ll learn the ropes from someone else – who may or may not have their best interests in mind.
These are three things that you can change today – right now – to make a difference in the life of a teenager in your world. These tips are useful for parenting teenagers and even for just interacting with teens in a meaningful way. Try them and see what happens! Do you have any tips for parenting teenagers you’d like to share? Tell us in the comments!
Rob Youngblood is an Emmy Award Winning TV Host, Passionate and Inspiring Speaker, Communication Coach, and A Guy Who Talks for a Living! Follow him on Twitter.